How Profane User Content Impacts Your BrandIn today’s marketplace, branding via company websites and social media pages is the name of the game. By engaging in conversations with real people online, you take control of your brand’s web image and make your customers feel confident that they can expect great service and individual attention from you both in the physical and digital worlds. However, when you start to interact with those real people, you’re also going to find out very quickly that some of them are a bit more… colorful in the way they express themselves.

This kind of thing didn’t matter when it happened in a one-on-one interaction in a store or over the phone with customer service, but the internet works differently. A profane or otherwise inappropriate comment is something that lives on your site or company page once someone has posted it there. Leaving it there for the world to see is a way of saying, “I’m okay with having my company seen like this.”

Depending on the goals of your business, that may be a big mistake. Here are several ways that profane user content can impact your brand.

You put yourself in a niche. Allowing freedom of expression – even at its most colorful – isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Younger, hipper crowds might even identify with your brand because of this silent message you’re sending. Take a site like The Onion, for example, which has turned their brand of smart, irreverent humor into a mini-empire that spans multiple sites and sells all kinds of merchandise. Part of the reason for their success is the fact that a community that mirrors their irreverence has formed on their message boards, and you can see this in the often off-color but frequently hilarious posts that commenters make. However, allowing too much profane or offensive content on any platform will paint your company in a particular light, and if your business wants to be taken seriously, appeal to kids, or even just reach a general audience, it’s going to hurt revenue and growth.

It hijacks the conversation. Even if you like the idea of people being able to say what they want to say, ultimately you’re still in this to make sales and grow your business. Profane and inappropriate conversations tend to veer off from the original point and draw focus away from your company and the message that you’re trying to convey.

People can be turned off. Someone going to AintItCool might know they’re going to run into user content that’s inappropriate, but the same person browsing CNN probably wouldn’t. It’s a question of expectations. A serious, intelligent person who wants to have a real conversation about a news story might look elsewhere if their CNN comment is met with lewd responses. More importantly, it may impact their decision to use the site again.

Ways to Take Control of the Impact

Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do to take control and protect the image of your company.

Use filters. Facebook allows you to set up filters for profanity and other offensive terms on your business page, so why not do it for your own website? You can get a profanity filter for less than $9 a month and stop worrying that an unruly user is going to besmirch your good name.

Set up manual approvals. Most blogs and many forms of social media offer you the option to manually approve individual comments before they go live on the site. As a pro, it’s free and you have total control, but manually approving everything is too time-consuming for many businesses.

Crowdsourcing. Some sites use crowdsourcing to moderate content by asking users to report it to the site owners so they can deal with it. The upside is that you’re allowing your audience to take control, so they likely have a good idea about what offends your target customer and what doesn’t. Of course, the flipside is that users may flag things you wouldn’t and miss things you would – image moderation is especially tough in this way. Also, since users are typically not paid for participation, moderation may be sporadic, so offensive content may be live on the site longer.

Don’t let your users bring you down – protect your brand’s image by moderating content.

Josh Weiss-Roessler is a small business marketing consultant based in Austin, Texas who specializes in branding and content marketing. You can learn more about his work at Weiss-Roessler Writing, where he serves as co-owner.